When the first "Harry Potter" film made it to theaters late last year, everyone was curious to find out how J.K. Rowling’s beloved book would turn out on the big screen. As it turned out, "Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone" would shatter box-office records and become the most successful film of 2001. Hardly surprising, Warner Home Video decided to give the DVD release of the film the royal treatment to satisfy the hunger for the home video market of the movie, preparing a 2-disc set that also includes a large number of exciting extras. It is time to take a look at this release.
Harry Potter is an orphan who lives with the family of his mother’s sister, where he is abused and exploited in the best Cinderella fashion. As he is approaching his eleventh birthday suddenly things change when letters from a place called Hogwarts arrive for Harry. When his uncle keeps destroying them, more and more letters arrive but Harry gets to read none of them. Upon his birthday then, finally the letter is delivered by a messenger, Hagrid, a towering man, who tells Harry that he has been accepted to Hogwarts, the world’s best School for Witchcraft and Wizardy. It turns out that Harry is a wizard, with an innate ability that has been handed down to him by his parents. When he joins Hagrid to go to Hogwarts, he slowly learns that a power seems to have been slumbering inside of him that he never realized even existed. Quickly he becomes one of the most acclaimed students of Hogwarts and before he even knows it, he is on the trail of some mysterious goings-on inside the walls of the giant castle-like school. With his friends Ron and Hermione he is determined to find out what the secrets are, und in doing so, he slowly unravels his own past – and future.
What is immediately obvious is how well cast and shot the film is. The images are beautiful and atmospheric, and the introduction to Harry’s character and his escape from the abusive home make a great exposition for what is to come, despite the fact that this lengthy exposition runs for almost a full hour. Daniel Radcliffe as the titular Harry Potter is a perfect cast. Innocent at times, boyish coy at others, then smug and eventually dominant, Radcliffe pulls off the part so convincingly that it is impossible to envision someone else playing the role. High caliber cameo appearances add to the film’s credibility and overall, the story evolves at a good pace, making it a thoroughly enjoyable movie experience. Special effects are a bit weak and unconvincing at times, but somehow it never hampers the experience - too caught up are we in this magical world of wizardry.
"Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone " is coming to DVD in its original theatrical widescreen version on this DVD in a transfer that has been enhanced for 16x9 TV sets – a pan & scan version is available as a separate release. The transfer is entirely free of defects of any sort creating a pristine picture that is absolutely stable. A few scenes show some grain, especially the foggy opening minutes of the movie, but it appears that this is a result of the original film and not necessarily this DVD transfer. Other than those rare moments of exaggerated grain, the transfer has been meticulously prepared for a beautiful rendition of the movie. The definition and level of detail is incredibly high and the image is sharp but never appears artificially sharpened, and no distracting signs of edge-enhancement are evident. Colors are vibrant and strong in this transfer, bringing out the very best of the lush outdoor shots and the atmospheric interiors. Black levels are also perfect, giving the image a lot of depth, and especially during the nighttime scenes the level of detail retained by the picture is remarkable. The compression has also been done carefully not to add unnecessary compression artifacts to it, though occasionally banding artifacts are visible.
One thing to keep in mind with a film like "Harry Potter" is the fact that it is a family film, generally speaking, and all aspects of the production reflect that in one way or another. In the audio department, it is witnessed by the fact that the mix is not nearly as aggressive as it could have been. Although very wide and with a good frequency response that produces deep basses and clear high ends, the surround usage is clearly restrained. It doesn’t make the film the sonic roller-coaster it could have been - and please not the use of the word could here as opposed to should - which his perfectly fine with me. Bombarding especially younger audiences with a bombast of explosive surround may not really be such a good idea, especially given the fact that in many cases it would take viewers out of the experience rather than allowing them to immerse themselves fully. The mix is very good and dialogues are always well above the mix. The reproduction is very natural sounding and reflects the film’s high production values.
I was a little surprised by John Williams’ score for the movie for its Elfman-esque quality. While he is using beautifully melodic themes and motifs, the orchestration and arrangement reminded me of Danny Elfman’s work more than once – which his a good thing, I may add – especially since the score works beautifully with the film despite the fact that the music is put in the foreground quite a bit at times.
The DVD contains a slew of bonus materials, starting with trailers and cast &crew information on the first disc, supplementing the movie. On the second disc you will find everything your heart desires if you are a true Harry Potter fan.
While the extras on this disc may not be exactly what videophile viewers would have liked to see, Warner’s decision to go with the family theme of contents makes perfect sense. Like any product, DVDs have to be targeted at an audience, and in this case the audience are predominantly the legions of kids and teenagers who fell in love with the Harry Potter books.
Everything on this second disc is presented in a very playful manner that invites viewers to explore the world of Harry Potter, nicely expanding the sense of wonder from the film to the bonus materials. There are little games taking you to Diagon Alley to do your shopping of wizard’s supplies. This is an essential step as some of the other features on the DVD will require you to have your utensils ready, just as required by the school rules.
An interactive, narrated tour through Hogwarts is also part of the release, giving you the chance to explore every corner of the place. You will notice many details you did not catch while watching the movie and this feature truly allows your imagination to take over, placing you in the famous school yourself.
The "Sorting Hat" feature gives you some more information about the different houses of Hogwarts and in the library you can pick various books to look up different aspects of Hogwarts and the movie. You will find vast galleries of pre-production art here, explanations of some side-characters and important hints for the general game that is the menu itself.
In the "Interviews" section then you will find an interview featurette entitled "Capturing the Stone" filled with comments by the filmmakers as they discuss the making of the film and their attachment to the project. A surprising amount of ground is covered in this 15-minute featurette as the producer, director and other crew members talk about the film the casting, the adaptation of the novel to the screen and much more.
"Hogwarts Grounds" gives you access to more games and information. You can try to catch a snitch to obtain more information about it and the game of Quidditch, or you can take a closer look at Hagrid’s hut, among many other things, collecting hints and objects that are required to unlock the ultimate feature of the disc – the deleted scenes.
Once you have managed to collect all the objects needed you can go about trying to find the "Third Corridor" where the deleted scenes are located. It is not an easy task and will take quite some time. While it may be frustrating for those of you who are used to having direct access to all contents on a DVD, from a Potter fan’s perspective, I think these deleted scenes are the ultimate reward for exploring the disc and spending more time in the world of Hogwarts. The scenes are beautifully presented, just as the movie, in anamorphic widescreen and are actually very good for the most part.
The DVD also contains a good number of DVD-ROM features, in the same vein. They invite you to explore the contents and offer some great games. After installing the PC Friendly player you will have access to this variety of features. Sadly the player is extremely slow in its data access and shows some incompatibilities with a variety of PC hardware, making it a potentially tedious experience. Once you manage to get it to run, though, wallpapers, trading cards and other cool stuff can be found there.
"Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone" is a wonderfully enchanting film and it is easy to see why the books have caught on so well with its readers and why the film turned out to be as successful as it is. It is a great tale that contains everything a young mind dwells on, also leaving plenty of room for your own imagination to soar. The film strikes a perfect balance between being entertaining, suspenseful and intriguing but makes sure never to become too dark or explicit, making it a perfect escape for young viewers and an entertaining story for adults. The DVD that Warner has prepared here is a great release that offers everything fans could ask for. While it doesn’t contain any real behind-the-scenes content, I do not see this as a detractor at all, as I think the merits of the film and novels lie strictly within their content, especially in its audience group. This is must-own for all fans of Harry Potter!